The calçot is a variety of scallion from Lleida, Spain and is considered a Catalan delicacy. “Onions are biannual plants, which mean that they need two seasons to complete a cycle of seed-to-seed production. Onion seeds that are planted in the spring, will grow or “set” when the days become long enough. The bulb will then grow and die. Any onion bulb that is not harvested will lie dormant and then sprout again the following year. The special method of growing the calçots interrupts this cycle. Calçots have been grown for centuries in Catalunya. However, in the late 1800’s a farmer in Valls began to cultivate them in a special way. He began covering them with earth so that the edible part does not turn green, but remains white similar to the method of growing white asparagus. In the Catalan language, it is called calçar, which means “to put your shoes on” (http://spanishfood.about.com/od/seasonalspanishfoods/a/calcots.htm). So, as Catalans hate waste, they basically shove the onion back into the ground until it sprouts long spears creating what can be described as something between a leek and a spring onion with a mild, sweeter flavor.
Harvest of the calçots starts in November and continues through April. To celebrate the years crop, entire towns hold annual calçotadas in massive groups of 1,000 or more. Most small towns in Catalunya have their own town “calçotada day” in January or February, where they consume copious amounts of calçots (they say it’s good for the digestive system!). Backyard calçotadas are also popular events shared with family and friends. To prepare the calçots, the long stems are placed across vine embers and are barbequed until crispy. They are then wrapped in newspaper to soften. When ready to eat, you take the calçot, twist and pull off the charred, outside skin to reveal the delicate, succulent white inside. You then dip your calçot in a special salsa called salvitxada which is sort of like a creamy, tomato aoli, made of almonds, tomatoes, garlic, peppers, vinegar and oil. You drench your calçot in the salvitxada, shove the entire onion in your mouth and enjoy!
There are normally a few purrons being passed around (long stemmed, glass drinking containers) filled with cheap wine and Clara (a mix between beer and lemon juice). It is a fine art drinking from the purron as over the years, Catalans perfect their technique by seeing how high they can hold the purron before spilling wine all over themselves (hence the bibs). Great fun! (Watch the video below of our backyard Calçotada with Oscar, Nicole, Lucca and my family!)